STORRS -- The UConn women's basketball team has admittedly matured since the end of last season. It has grown in confidence, too. Still, the recent string of losses to Big East rival Notre Dame have a way of recurring in the minds of the Huskies.
The fifth-ranked Irish have dominated the series between the teams by winning four of the last five meetings. They ended the season for top-ranked UConn in the national semifinals in each of the last two years. They also pinned a 13-point loss on the Huskies at the XL Center in regular season finale last Feb. 27 when UConn coach Geno Auriemma pulled his starters with 3:11 remaining in the game.
The Huskies have made critical mistakes at critical times during this stretch of futility. Led by All-American Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame has also outplayed UConn for long stretches. Today at sold-out Gampel Pavilion (4 p.m.; CBS), the Huskies will look to right themselves when they host the Irish in the conference opener for both teams.
"They were really good when they needed to be and we sucked when we needed to,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "So you put those two things together and you've got one team winning four out of five. Obviously, they're the kind of team that's as good as any team we're going to play and if you make mistakes and if you play poorly and if you don't make some plays when you really need to make them they're good enough to beat you.''
The Huskies (12-0) committed 18 turnovers and gave up 19 offensive rebounds in a 72-59 loss at the XL Center Feb. 27, 2012. They twice had a two-point lead in the final minute and lost in overtime in South Bend Jan. 7, 2012 and in the national semifinals in Denver last April 1. And they were buried by a 21-6 second-half run by the Irish in the national semifinals in Indianapolis April 3, 2011.
This is the most painstaking stretch for UConn since Tennessee also won four of five March 29, 1996 through Jan. 10, 1999. The run by the Lady Vols included wins in the national semifinals in 1996 and in the NCAA regional final in 1997.
"Definitely, I think it kind of aggravates to know the number of times that we've played them and they beat us and they just outworked us and played better,'' UConn junior Stefanie Dolson said. "I think it wouldn't be as bad if we played great and they beat us, just knowing they're a better team.''
UConn and Notre Dame (11-1) have met four times in each of the past two seasons. This will be the 12th meeting since Jan. 16, 2010.
The Huskies, who will be facing the third second Top 5 opponent in three games, have defeated the Irish by a combined 45 points in the last two games played at Gampel Pavilion.
"It's UConn vs. Notre Dame,'' UConn senior Kelly Faris said. "It was embarrassing last year because that's stuff you can't coach. That's got to come from within, and it's pretty much a big disappointment to a lot of people if that's how you lose the game.''
Not only are the Huskies looking to start a positive streak against the Irish, they are also looking to begin their run at a 20th Big East regular season championship.
UConn had its run of five straight regular season championships ended by Notre Dame last season.
"I think it's really important for us to go out there and just show everyone in the conference that we're a tough team and that it's going to be hard to play us,'' UConn All-American Bria Hartley said. "Especially against a team like Notre Dame that's ranked in the Top 5 in the country. So go out there and make a statement against them.''
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